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Dom Joly Headshot

Velvet Vaclav

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Back in 1990 I was an intern for the European Commission in Prague. I spent a fascinating nine months living in that most beautiful of cities as it came to terms with the Velvet Revolution and new-found freedom.

This was still a halcyon time- intellectuals and poets were in power and even McDonalds had not yet stamped their footprint on the place.

One night I met an American guy in a bar who was on his way to a concert. I tagged along and we ended up at Bunkr, an underground venue that had formerly been one of the Communist government's nuclear bunkers.

The place was heaving and beer was eight pence a pint. The band playing that night was the less famous half of the Velvet Underground- Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker, the diminutive female drummer.

It was a wonderful gig and I couldn't believe my good fortune in stumbling upon it. I stood right at the front being pushed this way and that in the tiny mosh pit.

Just before the last song (Heroin) Moe Tucker thanked the crowd for their reception and congratulated them on the Velvet Revolution. They cheered and raised their glasses. "I'd particularly like to thank our friend Vaclav Havel for what he has done in leading your country to freedom." Everyone cheered again. "And I would like to thank him for coming along tonight..."

A nondescript, slightly stooped man in a shabby brown leather jacket who had been standing about three feet from me throughout the gig turned to face the crowd and gave them a wave. The band launched into Heroin and Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslovakia turned back towards the stage to watch the finale.

It was extraordinary - what other country would have a president at a tiny rock concert with no security whatsoever and the minimum fuss being made around him?

As the concert finished and we started trooping out I was right beside him going up the stairs. I didn't really know what to say so I just shook his hand and then watched as he pottered off on his own into the Prague night. These sorts of politicians don't come around that often...

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